I picked up a couple of extra shifts doing clerical work at a walk-in clinic last weekend and found myself on the front line of climate change. Tick bites, browntail moth rashes, heat issues. Shorter, milder winters lead to increased tick survival rates, and the continued expansion of the human habitat into wildlife territory – as well as the extirpation of natural predators – means that tick host populations like deer and mice are more abundant.

There were ticks when I was a kid, but they weren’t this bad, and Lyme disease was much rarer. Same with browntail moth outbreaks. The population is naturally kept in check by a fungus (called Entomophaga aulicae, which I had to triple-check how to spell), but the fungus can’t grow in conditions of drought. Additionally, dry air causes the rash-inducing caterpillar hairs to float around and travel longer distances to wreak havoc on our skin and throats. As humanity continues to pump greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, trapping heat in our atmosphere and steadily raising the planet’s temperature, we’re only going to see these problems get worse. Where heat goes, drought follows.

Heat alone can be deadly, particularly for children and senior citizens. Maine sits at a terrible intersection of problems: We have a lot of old people, and our infrastructure wasn’t designed for heat waves (not to mention the humidity factor). Our housing stock is old, and often not conducive to air conditioning. And air conditioning, while fixing one problem, contributes to the larger problem of climate change, because air conditioning requires a ton of electricity to run. If that electricity isn’t coming from renewable sources like wind and solar, it’s just going to result in more emissions of carbon dioxide, continuing to ruin the planet further.

Maine’s climate and weather patterns have changed since I was a kid – I’m not being nostalgic here, and also, I’m not particularly old. Summers are hotter, temperatures are higher, winters are shorter but, paradoxically, have more intense and destructive storms. I don’t know how anyone who has grown up in Maine can be a climate change denier. Unfortunately, I do know how plenty of people in Maine can feel the need to drag their feet when it comes to cutting carbon emissions as fast as we can: They’re old, and when it comes to climate change, the worst will always be perpetually 30 or 40 or 50 years down the road. It won’t affect them. The world will continue to be OK-ish enough to live in for the baby boomer generation. But not for millennials. And what about our children? If I have a biological child within the next 10 years (my ovaries don’t come labeled with an expiration date, so I’m guesstimating the end window of my fertility, of course), that child could very well grow up to be a human who lives to see the year 2100. What sort of world would they grow up in? Would they die of heatstroke, or drown in a flood?

Meanwhile, our politicians are arguing over how little to spend on an infrastructure package. From what I can tell of the negotiations, conservatives don’t want to spend anything, liberals want to spend a little bit and nobody is slamming their fist on the table and yelling, “Jeebus crawfish, if we don’t cut carbon emissions as fast as we can until we reach net zero, the world will slowly lose its ability to grow enough food to feed ourselves and we will all starve and sweat to death!” This is why I would not be a good politician, I guess, because I would be doing that screaming, probably with a lot more swear words. I have a daily commute of 94 miles. This means I drive at least 470 miles in my gasoline-powered car every week, and at least once a week, I feel so guilty about the carbon I’m putting into the atmosphere that I feel nauseated. And I’m not doing it for kicks and giggles, I’m doing it because it was the only place to offer me a job, and I need money to buy food and stuff. I can’t imagine being someone with actual wealth and power and just shrugging my shoulders.

As a country, and as a state, we need to overhaul our energy systems, immediately. Will people with expensive coastal views need to look at wind turbines on the horizon? Yes, absolutely. But the seas are rising, regardless of the effect that unobstructed views have on property values. The road is getting shorter, and when we get to the end of it, we are going to find an awful lot of kicked cans.

Happy Independence Day.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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